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QA Apprenticeship boosts data skills of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency

How a data analyst apprenticeship is helping the MCA to keep the seas and coastlines safe, by predicting trends and building data literacy.


The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has developed its ability to predict and respond to trends through the use of data skills. By growing its data analysis capabilities, the agency has become more able to focus resources where it is most needed, including in the upskilling of existing employees.

Data enthusiast Will Harding is the latest to benefit from QA’s Level 4 Data Analyst apprenticeship programme.

Building data capacity

Data analyst apprentice Will HardingBeing able to predict when incidents may occur has become a vital part of the agency’s ability to respond to challenging situations effectively. The focus on data skills is relatively new for the agency, having only created a dedicated data team in recent years, but has developed quickly as its value was recognised.

Will Harding was key to this recognition, despite having originally been hired by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) in 2016 as a Project Manager. He had responsibility for important projects designed to help coastguards on the ground to keep people safe, and to anticipate potential challenges facing the agency in the future.

Will recognised that data skills could be an extremely important tool for the MCA and, after realising the science was in its infancy within the organisation, he decided to undertake the QA Level 4 Data Analyst apprenticeship.

’I had a meeting with the IT team about looking into data analysis and machine learning. This skillset was new to the MCA, and I knew I wanted to develop our skills in this area,’ Will said.

Adding immediate impact

The QA apprenticeship is structured in a way that gives apprentices both an educational understanding of data skills and an opportunity to put the skills learnt into practice in their roles every week, adding immediate value and impact. Without a background in data skills or computer science, the hybrid structure of the apprenticeship and the topics covered were a perfect fit for Will.

Early in the apprenticeship, Will was already putting his data skills to the test helping search and rescue teams gain a better understanding of incidents taking place on offshore energy sites. By combining the agency’s data set with those used by the offshore site teams, he was able to quickly generate actionable insights based on when and where incidents were occurring, and how the agency was, and should be, responding to them.

As part of the apprenticeship, 10% of Will’s course hours were set aside for practical implementation, helping him apply his new skills in real-world situations. For Charis Doidge, Head of Data Science and Analytics, this was one of the greatest advantages to QA’s apprenticeship’s structure:

'The QA apprenticeship means that apprentices put their skills into practice immediately. Apprentices develop useful tools for all of us, so not only are they growing their skills, they are already helping the whole organisation.’

Data solutions for safer seas

Through the apprenticeship, Will has gained important data skills that he is putting to use helping the Maritime and Coastguard Agency respond to incidents faster and, ultimately, save more lives.

From forecasting busy periods, such as school and bank holidays, to predicting weather patterns and geographical trends that help the agency identify busy areas, Will is helping the agency understand how best to maximise its resources and people. He now plans to develop his skills further by taking the QA Level 7 AI and Data Specialist degree apprenticeship.

The success of Will’s apprenticeship has also had a galvanising impact on the agency’s efforts to bridge the data skills gap and increase the data analysis capacity of the organisation, as Charis Doidge explains:

‘We have a number of people with fundamental data skills now, and an increasing amount are now using Power BI and that’s come off the back of the success of Will’s apprenticeship. It’s even gone all the way up to executives. We are now working to raise everyone else’s data literacy through training.’

Raising the data literacy of its teams is helping the MCA keep the seas and coastlines safe for everyone. And, as it continues to grow its data capacity, QA’s data apprenticeships will continue to play an important role in helping the agency respond even more effectively to people in need.

Find out more about QA's Data, Analytics and AI apprenticeships

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